Does Amazon Recycle its Plastic Packages?

Does Amazon’s plastic packaging actually get recycled? Researchers with U.S. PIRG placed trackers in bundles of Amazon shipping materials and put them in store drop bins to see where they ended up.

Plastic packaging from e-commerce is a major producer of plastic pollution, generating 3.4 billion pounds of plastic globally in 2021 alone. Amazon is a significant contributor to this number, generating an estimated 709 million pounds of plastic just in 2021. Amazon claims much of its plastic packaging is recyclable, and offers a store drop-off system for its film packaging. Yet researchers found no evidence any of its plastic packaging is being recycled. The results paint a far different picture of what actually happens to Amazon’s plastic packaging when it is returned for “recycling.”

Forever chemicals (PFAS) are compounds of emerging concern due to their persistence in the global water cycle and detection in water sources.

A study investigated forever chemicals or PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in U.S. water bottles as these toxic chemicals have been found in drinking water. Scientist investigated over 100 labeled water bottle products in the USA for PFAS and related factors. They have screen specifically for 32 target chemical compounds, half of which were detected.

These forever chemicals were detected using SPE-LC-MS/MS, and were found in 39 out of 101 tested products. Types and concertation of these forever chemicals varies, some being more prevalent than others. Purified water products contained less PFAS compared to Spring water products, which can be attributed to reverse osmosis that processes purified water.

As to date, there are no enforceable regulations against these organic pollutants.

The Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) Movement’s 2023 Global Brand Audit results are here, with The Coca-Cola Company once again claiming the title of top global plastic polluter—meaning its products were found polluting the most countries with the most waste.

The annual brand audit is a participatory community initiative in which branded plastic waste is gathered, counted, and documented to identify the companies responsible for plastic pollution. The brand audits have been running for six consecutive years, following a methodology co-developed by BFFP member organizations.

In 2023, 250 brand audits were conducted by 8,804 volunteers in 41 countries. Together, they collected and audited 537,719 pieces of plastic waste. Participants from 97 civil society organizations documented 6,858 brands from 3,810 parent companies. 

Key insights from the report:

  1. The top global plastic polluters of 2023 are The Coca-Cola Company, Nestlé, Unilever, PepsiCo, Mondelēz International, Mars, Inc., Procter & Gamble, Danone, Altria, and British American Tobacco. “Top global plastic polluters” are defined as the parent companies whose brands were found polluting the most countries with the most plastic waste, according to the brand audit data.
  2. The Coca-Cola Company maintains its position as the #1 top polluter for the sixth consecutive year, setting a new record with a total plastic waste count of 33,820 – the highest tally for the company since the project’s inception.
  3. Legal actions against major corporations escalated in 2023, with lawsuits filed against Danone, Coca-Cola, and Nestlé in Europe. Brand audit data is instrumental in providing evidence for legal battles, underscoring the role of these audits in holding corporations accountable.
  4. For the first time, PepsiCo branded plastic waste items outnumbered those of The Coca-Cola Company. According to the methodology that considers how many countries a brand is found in, PepsiCo didn’t make the top polluter spot as their waste was found in 30 countries compared to Coca-Cola’s 40.

Through this effort, BFFP calls on consumer goods companies to:

  1. Reveal their plastic use by providing public data on the type and quantity of packaging used in different markets and the chemicals in that packaging.
  2. End support for false solutions such as burning plastic and chemical recycling. 
  3. Redesign business models away from single-use packaging of any type – including novel materials such as bio-based or compostable plastics.
  4. Invest in accessible, affordable reuse, refill, or packaging-free product delivery systems in all markets while ensuring a just transition for all relevant workers.

Researchers find that there are at least 150 chemicals that leach into drinks, including water, from single-use plastic bottles. At least 18 of those chemicals were found at levels that exceed EU chemical regulations.

Abstract: Chemicals can migrate from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) drink bottles to their content and recycling processes may concentrate or introduce new chemicals to the PET value chain. Therefore, even though recycling PET bottles is key in reducing plastic pollution, it may raise concerns about safety and quality. This study provides a systematic evidence map of the food contact chemicals (FCCs) that migrate from PET drink bottles aiming to identify challenges in closing the plastic packaging loop. The migration potential of 193 FCCs has been investigated across the PET drink bottles lifecycle, of which 150 have been detected to migrate from PET bottles into food simulants/food samples. The study reveals that much research has focused on the migration of antimony (Sb), acetaldehyde and some well-known endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). It indicates and discusses the key influential factors on FCCs migration, such as physical characteristics and geographical origin of PET bottles, storage conditions, and reprocessing efficiency . Although, safety and quality implications arising from the recycling of PET bottles remain underexplored, the higher migration of Sb and Bishphenol A has been reported in recycled (rPET) compared to virgin PET. This is attributed to multiple contamination sources and the variability in the collection, sorting, and decontamination efficiency. Better collaboration among stakeholders across the entire PET bottles lifecycle is needed to ensure sustainable resource management and food contact safety of rPET.

Experts review the known endocrine-disrupting impacts of micro- and nanoplastics on mammals. Studies show numerous harmful health impacts from plastic particle exposure.

Abstract: Over the years, the vast expansion of plastic manufacturing has dramatically increased the environmental impact of microplastics [MPs] and nanoplastics [NPs], making them a threat to marine and terrestrial biota because they contain endocrine disrupting chemicals [EDCs] and other harmful compounds. MPs and NPs have deleteriouse impacts on mammalian endocrine components such as hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, testes, and ovaries. MPs and NPs absorb and act as a transport medium for harmful chemicals such as bisphenols, phthalates, polybrominated diphenyl ether, polychlorinated biphenyl ether, organotin, perfluorinated compounds, dioxins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, organic contaminants, and heavy metals, which are commonly used as additives in plastic production. As the EDCs are not covalently bonded to plastics, they can easily leach into milk, water, and other liquids affecting the endocrine system of mammals upon exposure. The toxicity induced by MPs and NPs is size-dependent, as smaller particles have better absorption capacity and larger surface area, releasing more EDC and toxic chemicals. Various EDCs contained or carried by MPs and NPs share structural similarities with specific hormone receptors; hence they interfere with normal hormone receptors, altering the hormonal action of the endocrine glands. This review demonstrates size-dependent MPs’ bioaccumulation, distribution, and translocation with potential hazards to the endocrine gland. We reviewed that MPs and NPs disrupt hypothalamic-pituitary axes, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid/adrenal/testicular/ovarian axis leading to oxidative stress, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, cytotoxicity, developmental abnormalities, decreased sperm quality, and immunotoxicity. The direct consequences of MPs and NPs on the thyroid, testis, and ovaries are documented. Still, studies need to be carried out to identify the direct effects of MPs and NPs on the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands.

The Joint Initiative for Sustainable Humanitarian Assistance Packaging Waste Management has prepared these guidelines to emphasize the importance of reducing packaging materials and prioritizing refusal and reduction over recycling due to the challenges of collection and recycling in areas where humanitarian operations take place.

To reduce packaging waste, it is important to choose packaging-free alternatives, advocate for suppliers of packaging materials to reduce packaging, eliminate single-use plastics, optimize the size of the packaging, and enable packaging to be reused or repurposed using innovative designs.

Following the waste-management hierarchy, this document also provides comprehensive guidelines to ensure sound management of packaging waste reuse and repurpose, recycling, and disposal in humanitarian operations.